7 Strategies for Smarter Intermittent Fasting
By JJ VIRGIN
I'm a firm believer in meal timing for fat loss and fast metabolism. I ask clients to consume a protein shake within an hour of waking, eat every four to six hours and stop eating about three hours before bed. Sticking to this regimen minimizes hunger and cravings, steadies blood sugar levels and promotes optimal fat burning.
Intermittent fasting (IF) cancels out these and many other dietary rules. Adherents argue that among its benefits, abstaining from food for certain periods — anywhere from 16 hours to days — can boost immunity, increase metabolism, curb insulin resistance and other blood sugar issues, and improve athletic performance.
But let's be honest: Most people are doing IF for fat loss.
I'm not entirely sold that IF is your most effective ticket for fat loss, but that hasn't stopped countless people from trying this regimented pattern of eating and fasting.
Whether you're curious about IF or you’ve been doing it for years, these 7 strategies can bolster your success:
1. Don't make eating a free-for-all. Fasting for 18 hours does not give you permission to dive into a deep-dish pepperoni pizza. You're setting the stage for numerous problems: food intolerances, potential binge eating, fat gain, and post-meal digestive issues. Plan your meals ahead of time and stick with lean protein, green veggies, high-fiber slow-release starches and good fats. Otherwise, your ravished state makes you vulnerable to a potential eating disaster.
2. Don't make food your new hobby. "I fantasize about elaborate meals when I'm fasting," a friend doing IF confessed. I get it: food occupies my mind when I get hungry too. Trouble is, you're potentially hungry a lot of the time while doing IF, leaving room for numerous food fantasies. Avoid situations that trigger those thoughts. For instance, don't go grocery shopping when you're fasting. Remember to have your next meal planned in advance; see rule one above.
3. Be mindful of your cortisol levels. Hunger creates metabolic stress that only exacerbates whatever stress you already confront during your daily routine. Stress raises cortisol, a hormone that stores fat and breaks down muscle. Ironically, elevated cortisol levels can undo your hard work. During your fasting state, work to maintain balanced cortisol levels so that your efforts aren't counterproductive. Yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and laughter are great de-stressors. Incorporate calming nutrients like rhodiola, magnesium and theanine into your diet by supplementation.
4. Stop relying on coffee. Most IF plans allow black coffee during the fasting state. Among its benefits, coffee can curb appetite and keep you alert when you're hungry and groggy. But a morning cup of joe can become an all-day affair, where you're relying on a continuous caffeine pick-me-up to pull you through the fasting period. Besides the jittery aftermath, coffee keeps your already-high cortisol levels ramped up. Have one morning cup of organic coffee, and then call it quits for the day.
5. Drink green tea instead. After that morning java jolt, switch to green tea. Its ECGC can provide thermogenic (fat-burning) benefits, and theanine keeps you calm when your job presents challenges and you haven't eaten in 15 hours. Brew your own iced green tea during the hotter months. Steep ten organic green tea bags in a gallon pitcher, sweeten with a little stevia or stevia/ erythritol blend and refrigerate.
6. Try my favorite "IF legal" appetite suppressant: fiber. Far from simply keeping you regular, fiber can balance blood sugar levels and curb your appetite. Because it contains no calories, most IF plans allow you to consume fiber powder, which could be your ticket to stifle hunger pangs, cravings, and food fantasies during fasting hours. Stir a teaspoon of fiber powder into water every hour or two when you're fasting to alleviate hunger.
7. Skip dinner, not breakfast. A substantial breakfast sets your day's metabolic tone. Too many people doing IF skip this meal, creating cravings and fatigue throughout the day. Try skipping dinner a few nights a week instead. You'll still get a 14 - 18 hour fasting window (you'll be sleeping through half of it!) without being famished all morning.
Readers — Have you ever tried intermittent fasting? What were your results? What are your tips and tricks for using IF? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Virgin Diet and Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy. She was also a co-host of TLC’s Freaky Eaters. JJ frequently blogs for The Huffington Post, LIVESTRONG.COM and other prominent media outlets. She created the “4 x 4 Burst Training Workout” and regularly appears on TV shows like Rachael Ray and Today to discuss topics such as fast fat loss, weight loss and food sensitivities.